Researchers Urged to Think Harder About Compiling and Sharing Data

July 22, 2009

Data overload is creeping up on everyone, and research scientists are no exception. So it's time, according to a report out today from the federally chartered National Academies, to think about what to do with all that data.

The report, "Ensuring the Integrity, Accessibility, and Stewardship of Research Data in the Digital Age," calls on researchers, their universities, and publishers of academic journals to consider new policies for compiling, tracking, storing, and sharing data. Otherwise, the report says, the flood of data coming out of scientific research could be lost, misinterpreted, or misused.

As an example, the report's authors—more than three dozen experts, mostly at research universities—suggest that scientists try harder to think of what data are relevant to their findings and then include that data in their published work.

While that kind of change could help scientists guard against mistakes and even accusations of fraud, it's not clear how many researchers are ready to take that step. The National Academies report comes just two days after Elsevier, the world's largest publisher of medical and scientific literature, said it was developing a new model of Web-based research article at its Cell Press division that would allow study data to be incorporated into the presentation. And Emilie Marcus, the editor in chief at Cell Press, said it wasn't immediately clear how eager researchers would be to take advantage of such a presentation.

The National Academies report today says researchers should strongly consider cooperating.

"Legitimate reasons may exist for keeping some data private or delaying their release," the report says, "but the default assumption should be that research data, methods (including the techniques, procedures, and tools that have been used to collect, generate, or analyze data, such as models, computer code, and input data), and other information integral to a publicly reported result will be publicly accessible when results are reported."